The Experiment

By Shirley G. Finlinson

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Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which … persecute you (Matt. 5:44).

“I’m not going to Primary any more if I have to sit by Jimmy,” I told Mom as I got into our car.

“What does Jimmy do that bothers you?”

My sister, Christine, who is two years older than I am, cut in. “He’s a real pain. He’s always pulling someone’s hair or poking them in the side or untying their shoelace. I don’t blame Alan. I wouldn’t want to sit by him, either.”

I looked at her gratefully. It was nice to have an older sister, especially when she agreed with me.

Mom looked at me. “Is that why you don’t want to sit by Jimmy?”

“Yes,” I said. “He always gets me in trouble.”

“How does his being naughty get you in trouble?”

Christina came to my rescue again. “When someone keeps hitting you and pulling your hair, you finally hit him back. Then you’re in trouble too.”

“Is that what happened today, Alan?” Mom asked, looking me right in the eye.

“Well-l-l-l, I can’t just let him hit me for no reason, can I?”

“So you got into a fight in Primary?” Mom asked.

I knew she was disappointed in me. I hung my head and said, “Yes.”

“Did it make you feel better to fight with Jimmy?” she asked me.

“I thought it did then, but now I’m not so sure. You make me feel like I did something bad.”

“Are you sure it’s me that’s making you feel that way?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know. What am I supposed to do when he starts poking and hitting me? I don’t want the other kids to think I’m a wimp. Besides, he hits hard, and it hurts.”

Just then, Dad got in the car. I was thankful that Mom didn’t say anything about my fighting in Primary as Dad started the car and drove home.

Later in the afternoon, though, Dad came to my room. “Alan, Mom tells me that you had some problems in Primary today. I’d like you to tell me what happened.”

I felt hopeful because he didn’t seem angry. When I finished explaining, he said, “That sounds like a pretty difficult situation, all right. Do you think hitting Jimmy back will stop him from hitting you any more?”

“Well, I hope so,” I answered. “At least he knows I can hit just as hard as he can.”

“Yes, I suppose he knows that,” Dad agreed. “Do you think he likes you any better now?”

“Dad, you must be kidding! He hates me now.”

“Do you like him any better than you did before the fight?”

“How can I like him better after he made me get into trouble with everyone?”

“Alan,” Dad began, “one of the reasons we go to church is to learn to be more like Jesus Christ, isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” I answered, “and Jesus would never have hit Jimmy. But, Dad, what would He have done?”

“That’s a good question. Let’s see if we can find an answer.” He opened my Bible to Matthew 18:21–22 [Matt. 18:21–22] and asked me to read it out loud.

“‘Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

“‘Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.’”

I felt very discouraged. “There is no way I can stand to have Jimmy hit and poke me a zillion times before I can hit him back.”

Dad smiled. “The idea isn’t to wait until you can hit him back.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Let’s look in Matthew 5:43–44 [Matt. 5:43–44]. What does this say that we should do?”

I began reading out loud: “‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

“‘But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’”

“Do you understand what Christ is teaching us here?” Dad asked.

“It sounds too hard for me to do.”

“Well, let’s make sure we understand what He is saying. First, He tells us to love our enemies.”

“Maybe I’m bad,” I said looking up at Dad, “but I don’t love Jimmy, not after what he did today.”

“But that’s just it, Alan!” Dad said. “Don’t you think the Savior knew how hard it would be to love our enemies? That’s why He told us how. He said to bless, do good to, and pray for those who do harm to us. He knew that it is very difficult to hate someone you are praying for and doing nice things for. Those kinds of actions change feelings of hate and anger into love and concern.”

I had a hard time believing that and it must have shown on my face. Dad said that he wanted me to try an experiment. He said that it wouldn’t be easy but that I should pray for Jimmy and do good things for him. He said that while I prayed for Jimmy, I should also pray that my feelings toward him would be softened.

That night as I knelt to say my prayers, I prayed that Jimmy would be happy. I also asked Heavenly Father to help me like Jimmy. I did that all week long. This part wasn’t too hard. It was the doing-good-things part that I was worried about.

I saw Jimmy only on Sundays because he didn’t go to my school. I didn’t feel ready to sit by him in Primary yet, but I didn’t want him to think I hated him, either. As I thought about it, I really didn’t hate him. I almost felt sorry for him. Maybe Heavenly Father was softening my heart.

All week I tried to think of something I could do for Jimmy. I figured he’d throw anything I gave him back at me, or make fun of me if I tried to do something nice. It was Saturday before I decided what I could do for him—something secret!

I asked Mom for three cookies to give him. I put them into a bag and typed a note on our computer: “To Jimmy, from someone who likes you.”

On Sunday, I asked Sister Lamb, my Primary teacher, if she would give the cookies to Jimmy without telling him whom they were from. She smiled at me and said she’d give them to him at the end of class.

During opening exercises and class, Jimmy made it obvious to everyone that he didn’t want to sit by me. He made several remarks that were pretty rude, but I just bit my tongue and waited. Before the closing prayer, Sister Lamb told Jimmy to stay a minute after the prayer.

I walked out of the room, but I didn’t go far. I wanted to hear what Jimmy said when he got the cookies. “Why are you giving me these?” he asked.

“Oh, they aren’t from me,” Sister Lamb said.

“They must be from you—no one else likes me.”

“No,” Sister Lamb said again.

“Well, who are they from?”

“I promised not to tell,” Sister Lamb said. I heard her closing her books, so I hurried away. I must have been smiling, because when I got in the car, Mom said, “Things must have gone much better in Primary today.”

“Yeah,” I said casually, “everything was OK.” Everything was more than OK. I felt happier than I had in a long time.

For three more weeks, I gave something to Sister Lamb to give to Jimmy. He began telling our class that someone must really like him. I could tell that he liked what was happening. It even seemed to me that he wasn’t as mean and rude as he used to be.

Then Dad asked me how I was doing with my experiment. I told him what had been happening, and he smiled. “That’s great, Alan! It sounds like you’re ready to make him your friend now.”

I looked up at Dad in surprise. “I thought that’s what I was doing.”

“You can’t go on giving him treats forever, Alan. At some point, you know, you have to give yourself.”


“It sounds to me like Jimmy needs a friend. Maybe you could invite him over to play.”

“But, Dad,” I answered, “Jimmy lives a long way from us. He doesn’t even go to my school.”

“Well, why don’t you see if he can come over next Saturday. I’ll pick him up and take him home.”

“I’m not sure he’d come. And what would we do? I don’t even know what he likes.”

The call was easier than I had thought it would be. Jimmy sounded surprised, but he accepted.

Saturday came. I rode with Dad to Jimmy’s house. I was a little bit nervous when I knocked on his door. He opened it and called to his mother that he was leaving.

On the way home, I asked Jimmy what he liked to do. We soon discovered that we both liked soccer and roller-blading. When we got to my house, I discovered that he was a computer whiz. We spent most the afternoon playing games, drawing pictures, and making up stories on the computer.

When it was time to go, we walked through the kitchen to the car. Mom was baking chocolate chip cookies, and she gave us some as we went out the back door. As he bit into one, Jimmy looked at me suspiciously. “Hey, these are just like the cookies my secret friend gave me at church.”

I laughed. “Maybe you’ll have to come here to get treats from your secret friend from now on.”

“It’s a deal! And you can get treats at my house.”

Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh